Search
Science

Media is revolutionizing science in all its forms, from patient access to information, to technologies doctors use to diagnose and treat, to how science research brings solutions to global health problems. The JUST Science Section discusses the various ways media drives scientific advances and affects social change.

Karina Saravia
Lisa MattsonMarisa Co

 

 

 

 

 

Kay BaldwinDoug Fleischli

Science

Sunday
Sep012013

Too Much Information, So Little Understanding

Karina Saravia
September 1st, 2013

Explaining and understanding is a fundamental goal of science. Modern tools and technologies make worlds of information and explanations readily available. Ironically, it appears that the public’s level of understanding is falling behind.

In 1982, polls showed that 44 percent of Americans believed God had created human beings in their present form. Thirty years later, the fraction of the population who are creationists is 46 percent. In 1989, when “climate change” had just entered the public lexicon, 63 percent of Americans understood it was a problem. Almost 25 years later, that proportion is actually a bit lower, at 58 percent.” (see Frank)

Is there too much information to choose from? Is the flood of information affecting the ability synthesize and comprehend it? Are people in denial? Or are people merely losing trust in science?

With the Internet, wikis and social media sites, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between fact and speculation. What is actually science and what is pseudoscience? The underlying problem lies in the public’s failure to distinguish the two. While real science characteristically utilizes empiricism and the scientific method to disprove, pseudoscience allures with subjectivism (See Smith). After all, the endless mediums of hyperbolic communication and the emerging religiosity of ‘scientism’ lend themselves for this kind of misdirection (See Bastasch; Haeder). Considering the rate of progress and development in society, this kind of miscommunication is unacceptable. The public needs to be informed. The people need to understand (See Beauchamp; Marshall).

Science is not all-powerful. It does not have all the answers. It does not address the moral and ethical topics in the analytical way the humanities can. However, scientific advances have brought us into this modern premise and must be used to at least determine the right questions. 

Sunday
Sep012013

Welcome to the Age of Denial

Adam Frank
NYtimes, August 21, 2013

IN 1982, polls showed that 44 percent of Americans believed God had created human beings in their present form. Thirty years later, the fraction of the population who are creationists is 46 percent.

In 1989, when “climate change” had just entered the public lexicon, 63 percent of Americans understood it was a problem. Almost 25 years later, that proportion is actually a bit lower, at 58 percent.

....Today, however, it is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact.

Thus, even as our day-to-day experiences have become dependent on technological progress, many of our leaders have abandoned the postwar bargain in favor of what the scientist Michael Mann calls the “scientization of politics.”   Read more...

Sunday
Sep012013

EPA Releases New Climate Change Video Series 

Molly Hooven
EPA Newsroom, August 26th, 2013

The Series Supports President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and Highlights Benefits of Reducing Energy Consumption

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released a new series of short public service videos on climate change. The videos cover a range of topics related to climate change, including its causes and impacts, actions Americans can take to reduce their impact, and the benefits to the economy of addressing climate change. The new video series supports the President’s Climate Action Plan by encouraging American families to reduce the amount of energy they consume, cutting down on their utility bills and protecting people’s health. Watch the video series and read more...

Sunday
Sep012013

MIT Professor: Global Warming is A ‘Religion’

Michael Bastasch
The Daily Caller, August 8th, 2013 

Throughout history, governments have twisted science to suit a political agenda. Global warming is no different, according to Dr. Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Global climate alarmism has been costly to society, and it has the potential to be vastly more costly. It has also been damaging to science, as scientists adjust both data and even theory to accommodate politically correct positions,” writes Lindzen in the fall 2013 issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

According to Lindzen, scientists make essentially “meaningless” claims about certain phenomenon. Activists for certain causes take up claims made by scientists and politicians respond to the alarmism spread by activists by doling out more research funding. — creating an “Iron Triangle” of poor incentives. Read more...

Monday
Aug122013

When Silicon Meets Biology: Brain-Computer Interfaces and the Evolution of Man

Karina Saravia 
August, 2013 

Modern technological and scientific advances are directly influencing how human beings interact and engage with the world around them. In The United States, the Obama administration has prioritized an initiative to map the connections of the human brain, combining national (i.e., NIH, NSF, DARPA) and private sector (e.g., Allen Institute, HHMI, Kavli Foundation, Salk Institute) investments of approximately $200 million dollars (See BRAIN Initiative). This initiative will expectantly progress BCI (Brain-Computer Interface) technologies, eventually allowing people to control objects and communicate with one and other nearly telepathically.

Image source: venturebeat.comBCIs have already been implemented in the medical field by way of mechanical limb manipulation and disease biomarkers (See Konigsberg; Rogers). The new era of “cognitive computing” converges multimodal data, neuroscience and nano technology, supercomputer simulations, algorithms and programming models to influence communication, entertainment, consumerism, education and national defense (See Modha; Pelletier). Is Ray Kurzweil’s “singularity” near? Will humans become cyboric entities? Will all this serve to harm or benefit society in the future? 

Whether the singularity evolves from Sci-Fi into “actual” reality or not, it is undeniable that an integration of the synthetic and the organic is before us. Society has already assimilated the Internet, mobile devices and social media networks into everyday life. As active participants in our converging culture, it is our cvil responsibility to be educated and aware of the implications of these emerging technologies. It is necessary utilize the available tools and resources to build a worthy socio-techno ecology. We must develop the democratic potential of this networked society and participate in creating the world we want before it becomes a Skynet-like Hollywood horror. 

Monday
Aug122013

Intelligent Neural Dust Embedded in the Brain Could Be the Ultimate Brain-Computer Interface

Neurogadget.com, July 18, 2013

A major hurdle in brain-computer interfaces is the lack of an implantable neural interface system that remains viable for a lifetime. This paper explores the fundamental system design trade-offs and ultimate size, power, and bandwidth scaling limits of neural recording systems.

A recent theoretical paper has described a system concept termed ‘neural dust’- a miniaturized low power system to support brain–computer interfaces (BCI) and monitor the brain from inside. Embedded in the brain, the intelligent dust particles could form an entirely new form of BCI, say Berkeley Engineering researchers.

 A major hurdle in brain-computer interfaces is the lack of an implantable neural interface system that remains viable for a lifetime. This paper explores the fundamental system design trade-offs and ultimate size, power, and bandwidth scaling limits of neural recording systems. Read more…

Monday
Aug122013

Harvard Creates Brain-to-Brain Interface, Allows Humans to Control Other Animals with Thoughts Alone

Sebastian Anthony
ExtremeTech, July 31, 2013

Researchers at Harvard University have created the first noninvasive brain-to-brain interface (BBI) between a human… and a rat. Simply by thinking the appropriate thought, the BBI allows the human to control the rat’s tail. This is one of the most important steps towards BBIs that allow for telepathic links between two or more humans — which is a good thing in the case of friends and family, but terrifying if you stop to think about the nefarious possibilities of a fascist dictatorship with mind control tech.

In recent years there have been huge advances in the field of brain-computer interfaces, where your thoughts are detected and “understood” by a sensor attached to a computer, but relatively little work has been done in the opposite direction (computer-brain interfaces). This is because it’s one thing for a computer to work out what a human is thinking (by asking or observing their actions), but another thing entirely to inject new thoughts into a human brain. To put it bluntly, we have almost no idea of how thoughts are encoded by neurons in the brain. For now, the best we can do is create a computer-brain interface that stimulates a region of the brain that’s known to create a certain reaction — such as the specific part of the motor cortex that’s in charge of your fingers. We don’t have the power to move your fingers in a specific way — that would require knowing the brain’s encoding scheme — but we can make them jerk around. Read more…

Monday
Aug122013

How the World Will Change When Tech Can Read Your Mind

Amir Konigsberg
Venturebeat.com, July 29, 2013 

So many traffic accidents are the result of a driver’s cognitive state: Are we distracted? Texting? Shaving? Putting makeup on? New to the road? Have we drunk one too many? Are we enraged? Dead tired?

What if driving became a more sophisticated technological experience, so that instead of relying on just the motorist, the car itself would be behind the wheel?

Recent advances in brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are slowly turning this into a real possibility. BCIs enable direct communication between the brain and a computer, and thus, any external device. This is done using mechanisms that monitor our brain activity and translate this into language that computers can read. Read more… 

Saturday
Jul212012

Too Hot to Vote

Lisa Mattson
July, 2012 

Even though sweltering heat and record droughts have been rampant in the US this year, the upcoming political elections and its political contenders pay little heed to the notion of climate change.  If fact, which side of the aisle you sit on might suggest whether or not you think climate change is a reality, and your age may determine whether it’s even on your radar.

The climate change issue is global and nations are coming together to discuss its impact and look at potential measures to reduce its repercussions. Despite this,  relatively little action is being taken.  With US candidates primarily focused on the economy, insiders predict sparse comment or action on environmental issues.

The fact that political hopefuls haven't focused on climate change may not matter, given that US voter turnout has significantly decreased over the past 40 years. Motivating the electorate has continually been a factor in getting out the vote, but new experimentation exploring what really gets people to vote might make a difference, especially in close races. 

Friday
Jul202012

Global Warming's Terrifying New Math

Bill McKibben
Rolling Stone, July 19, 2012

If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven't convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe Illustration by Edel Rodriguezexceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.…

Not that our leaders seemed to notice. Last month the world's nations, meeting in Rio for the 20th-anniversary reprise of a massive 1992 environmental summit, accomplished nothing. Unlike George H.W. Bush, who flew in for the first conclave, Barack Obama didn't even attend. It was "a ghost of the glad, confident meeting 20 years ago," the British journalist George Monbiot wrote; no one paid it much attention, footsteps echoing through the halls "once thronged by multitudes." Since I wrote one of the first books for a general audience about global warming way back in 1989, and since I've spent the intervening decades working ineffectively to slow that warming, I can say with some confidence that we're losing the fight, badly and quickly – losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in.  Read More

Friday
Jul202012

Many in Generation X are 'Disengaged' on Climate Change

 Eryn Brown
Los Angeles Times, July 19, 2012

According to a survey of more than 4,000 young adults, a large proportion of Generation X isn’t all that concerned about climate change.    Parched ground at an Illinois cattle lot this year. Researchers report that many Generation X members seem unconcerned about climate change. (Scott Olson/Getty Images / July 19, 2012)

Writing in the quarterly Generation X Report — which details findings of the Longitudinal Study of American Youth, a yearly survey of Americans who entered 7th or 10th grade in 50 U.S. public school systems in the fall of 1987 — University of Michigan research scientist Jon D. Miller said that the “surprising” results indicated that “many young adults do not see [climate change] as an immediate problem they need to address … and that many young adults prefer to focus on more immediate issues.” Read More

Thursday
May172012

What Makes a Good Scientist?  

Lisa Mattson
May, 2012

Is it the education, the creativity and innovation or the scientific rigor? While all of those qualities are essential, there is also one crucial trait missing. The ability to communicate.   To communicate your findings and ideas, not only to your peers, but also to the public is an extremely important component of being a good scientist.

The skill needed to accurately explain your results to a widely variant audience is becoming increasingly important. The impact science has on our health, our politics, our culture and our society cannot be underestimated. The ability to clearly and concisely communicate complex theories in a way that can be understood by non-scientists is critical. 

While many scientists lack the skill needed to convey their thoughts to a wider audience, there are tools, websites and help available. Colleges and Universities help prepare students to write about and disseminate scientific news.  There are organizations whose goal is to provide communication tools to help scientists disseminate their findings.  In addition, there are journals devoted to promoting scientific communication.  There are even  conferences devoted to the how science is communicated on the web.

Communication about science, whether it is the latest discovery, or a re-examination of previous work, requires deftness.  Given that science has such an impact on our lives, the writer must be cognizant of his audience understanding the potential influence the information may  have. The need for the science writer to be accurate is paramount and the ability to convey the information in a  non-biased, objective way is critical to success.

Thursday
May102012

Rethinking How to Communicate Science

Laura Hermann
SXSW,  2012 

It's been 30 years since Edward Tufte convinced designers that the visual display of quantitative information mattered. We illustrate evidence to promote understanding, but our choices to express science have changed. The pervasiveness of technology in our lives generates volumes of data. Increasingly, scientists and researchers make extensible versions of their datasets available. Crowdsourcing projects generate additional data sources. The result is a new diction to distinguish fact from fiction.We used to rely on science writers and designers to translate impenetrable academic and scientific studies. Today, citizens and academics alike have accessible ways to visualize information. Is that enough? Communicating about science requires balancing competing interests with conflicting evidence. The craft of science communication will evolve with new technology and the ways we decipher the political, social and economic context of available evidence will be increasingly critical. Read more…

Friday
May042012

War Of The Worlds: When Science, Politics Collide

Scott Neuman
NPR, April 4, 2012

Roger Cone is a microbiologist, not a politician. He struggles with a basic truth: For all the scientific acceptance of evolution, many Americans simply don't believe it is factually accurate.

And when Tennessee lawmakers passed a measure allowing teachers to question accepted theories on evolution and climate change in the classroom, Cone acted. He and two other scientists wrote an op-ed in The Tennessean last month opposing the bill, which he says "started out asHulton Archive/Getty Images a backdoor attempt to get creationism, or 'intelligent design,' taught in the schools." He fears it will be another black eye for Tennessee — a throwback to the 1925 Scopes "monkey trial," when teacher John T. Scopes was put on trial for lecturing on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution…

Cone is not alone. The Tennessee controversy is only the latest example of scientists leaving their labs and universities, and clashing with politicians. Read more…

Friday
May042012

Teaching Future Scientists to Talk

Jack C. Schultz and Jon T. Stemmle
The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 4, 2012

Much has been written about the need for scientists to speak more plainly and compellingly about their research. Yet complaints about their poor communication skills cBrian Taylorontinue unabated in the popular and academic press and in agencies that finance their work.

But perhaps it's too late to work on those communication skills once scientists are already established. That's why we have devised a program, with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, that seeks to build and maintain those skills early—in undergraduates who are exploring research careers by working in life-science laboratories.